Monday, August 17, 2015

Trust Us. We Know What We're Doing

President Obama got the backing of 29 scientists for his nuclear deal with Iran.

I'm to be comforted by this?

Twenty-nine of the nation’s top scientists — including Nobel laureates, veteran makers of nuclear arms and former White House science advisers — wrote to President Obama on Saturday to praise the Iran deal, calling it innovative and stringent.

Let's look at one point of their praise:

The deal’s plan for resolving disputes, the letter says, greatly mitigates “concerns about clandestine activities.” It hails the 24-day cap on Iranian delays to site investigations as “unprecedented,” adding that the agreement “will allow effective challenge inspection for the suspected activities of greatest concern.”

Let's go to the deal! I went through it here, so let me extract some of my comments on enforcement and inspections.


Page 4 gives the IAEA the job of monitoring and verifying the nuclear measures of the deal. This is also the place where the side deals are acknowledged as none of our business, since it says that "all relevant rules and regulations of the IAEA with regard to the protection of information will be fully observed by all parties involved."

So the IAEA will be able to inspect when the IAEA suspects something that is of highest concern to the IAEA.

And remember:

Page 39 excludes Americans as part of the IAEA inspectors since only countries with diplomatic relations with Iran may be used.

I stand corrected, perhaps it is unprecedented for us to subcontract such an important national security mission to another body.

Now to the access!

At page 42 we get to access to nuclear facilities. The section starts out by saying access shall be requested "in good faith, with due observation of the sovereign rights of Iran, and kept to the minimum necessary to effectively implement the verification responsibilities" under the deal.

Who decides good faith, what doesn't interfere with sovereign rights, and what the minimum is? These sound like multiple grounds for Iran to halt inspections.

If we think there are unlawful activities or materials or undeclared facilities, the IAEA has to tell Iran the basis for the concerns and request clarification. No time limit is mentioned for getting clarification.

If the clarification doesn't resolve the IAEA's concerns--not our concerns apparently, just the secretive IAEA's--the IAEA may request access to the location and provide Iran with reasons in writing and make available relevant information. "May?" Not "must?" What is relevant? The name of whoever provided the information? The type of satellite that spotted something? Doesn't this just give Iran information to refine their ability to avoid detection?

On page 43, Iran can propose an alternative to site visits, which should be given due and prompt consideration! Seriously?

Ah, the first time frame. So that doesn't add in the time for clarification of the concerns expressed to Iran. If the absence of unlawful materials or activities cannot be verified within 14 days of the IAEA original request for access, Iran and the IAEA have to agree to a means to resolve the dispute.

And I'll ask whether this will morph into the need for the IAEA to prove there is unlawful materials or activities, the way Saddam got the world to reverse his WMD obligations under the 1991 ceasefire.

Anyway, if following that 14-day period, the IAEA and Iran can't agree to means to resolve the dispute, a vote of 5 out of 8 members of the Joint Commission (one each from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, the United States, Iran, and the European Union) would approve advice on means for resolving the IAEA concerns.

China, Russia, and Iran will vote as a bloc, meaning Iran only has to bribe one country to abstain (coughfrancecough).

The commission would have 7 days for this step and the Iranians would have 3 days to implement the means.

So that's the 24 days we keep hearing about for access to nuclear sites. I'm still not confident that clarification efforts won't suspend that time. Lord knows how long that can last. And that is only if the IAEA decides to try to gain access to the site. They don't have to do that and we can't make them try.

But how long does it take before the IAEA makes the request that starts the clock? If we tell the IAEA we have a suspicion, I'm sure the IAEA will want to study our complaint. Remember, the IAEA is in charge of this and not us.

And will we be vigilant in raising alarms or will we internally decide not to complain if evidence--as it will be in these things--too uncertain to push the IAEA?

I see this as the prime place where inspections morph from Iran having to reassure us that they are innocent to us thinking we have to prove Iran is hiding something like it is a court case.

Further, will the 14-day clock be stopped while the IAEA gives Iran's alternative to a site inspection "due and prompt consideration?"

And what if Iran, Russia, and China don't send their delegates to the meeting to make that week deadline; the EU is too nervous to vote at all; and France has too many deals with Iran to risk voting against Iran? How easy will it be to get to 5 votes based on unclear (perhaps because we don't want to reveal sources) evidence?

Seriously, if enough delegates just don't show up within that 7-day window, who makes them show up? IAEA sergeants-at-arms?

And if Iran doesn't implement the resolution in 3 days? What if Iran says there are technical reasons it will take them a week? And then plead that a mudslide and a horrible intenstinal disorder has the one guy in charge of escorting the IAEA team in bed for another week at least?

If Iran begins what they say must be a 5-month process to resolve the dispute "within 3 days," does that count as compliance?

Further, what if Iran disputes any part of this theoretical 24-day process?

Let's see:

At page 19 we start the dispute resolution part--as if the provisions on obeying the spirit of the intent of the deal will be disputed!

If a party believes the other side isn't meeting their commitments, the party can refer the issue to the joint commission. There is no word on how long a dispute should last before such referral. I assume this could be months.

Once referred, the commission has 15 days to resolve the issue, unless by consensus the time is extended. No word on limits on that. I assume this could mean months, too.

After the commission has considered the issue and the issue is still not resolved, parties can refer the issue to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs. This can apparently be parallel to joint commission consideration rather than sequential. How likely is that?

The ministers have 15 days to resolve the issue, unless there is consensus extension. Again, months are possible to give them time to peacefully resolve a highly technical issue that is surely just a difference of opinion.

Then the issue can go to the Advisory Board, consisting of one member appointed by each side of the dispute and one "independent" member. No word on how that is decided. Please God, tell me Russia is not involved in that determination. That board has 15 days to issue a non-binding opinion.

If, after this 30-day (at least) period the issue is not resolved, the joint commission (which includes Iran, remember) has 5 days to consider the non-binding opinion.

If a party believes the issue is not resolved, the complaining party can deem this a "significant non-performance" and cease performing any or all duties under the act.

So while these scientists praise the 24-day access, I just don't believe that we can really gain access within 24 days if Iran and their friends are really determined to slow us down.

And as I've pointed out, there are serious limits even with innovative and stringent--unprecedented even--inspections in Iran.

Iranians are nutballs. They aren't stupid. They will cheat. And they will get away with it.

The Iranians will outwit the judgment of even nuclear physicists who are out of their league when it comes to intrigue.